Better Know an Author: Amy Jo Cousins

Psyched to have Romance author Amy Jo Cousins on the blog today, who’s not only one of the most prolific, supportive, and delightful people in all the land, but also wrote my #1 recommendation for “I need something short and absurdly hot.” (I’ll give you a minute to buy “Callie, Unwrapped.” You’re welcome in advance.) She’s got a brand-new m/m Romance out called HeartShip (more on that below), and a whole lot of wisdom and recommendations to share, so please welcome Amy Jo!

You’ve pulled off something incredibly rare in having a New Adult series (Bend or Break) with m/m, m/f, and f/f titles. What responses to that have you seen among your readership?
 

The response has been terrific, mixed with a dollop of “Ugh, what?” But that’s okay! New things always get a bit of a side-eye, right? And when the series first came out, very few people were mixing it up with different pairings in their series. It was a philosophical decision for me, though, to include all kinds of relationships in my series under one pen name. I wanted my writing to reflect my life and my community, and in my world, friendships and relationships and social circles are complicated and expansive and full of beautiful and every-changing variety. So yes, I occasionally get protest emails from readers who don’t like that I have a m/f or f/f books included with m/m stories, but this is more than just my writing. It’s my life. So there’s always going to be the full rainbow! The vast majority of readers I speak to are 100% supportive, especially my fans who are gay men. They read it all and love Cash and Steph as much as they love Tom and Reese or Vinnie and Bryan, which just makes me happy beyond all words.

Excitingly, you also just got the rights back to that series, and rereleased it with some beautiful new covers. What’s that process been like?
 
Well, the process of arguing with my publisher was rather exhilarating. We’re all normally so polite and professional that I got a bit of a charge out of going to the mat for myself and my intellectual property rights, not to mention those of my peers who were in the same situation. Not gonna lie. It was exciting. But also supremely frustrating, because of the thirteen months of waiting that passed since the original closing announcement. I have more stories to tell in this series, but everything was on hold! Now I’m back in business and so very excited about everything. Getting the whole series rerelease has been a joy, and I’m so in love with the updated covers Lexi at Romance by the Cover made for me! They’re sharp. 🙂 And getting The Belle vs the BDOC to match the series visually now too was a pure delight. I just started working on a story about a secondary character from Nothing Like Paris for an upcoming anthology, and I’m pretty much always thinking about what comes next for Tom and Reese, because those guys would make awesome foster dads, and I can’t wait to see that…
 
If I recall correctly, you’ve got a gay baseball romance coming up! (And I realllly hope I’m recalling correctly, because that sounds amazing!) Please share absolutely everything about that, sparing zero detail.
 
Ha! I do indeed. All of my Samhain chaos put my writing on hold, as I’ve worked to republish those books and release a bunch of self-pub books I’ve had mostly completed for a while, in order to fill in the gap, earnings-wise. But I should be wrapping up the first book of the series in short order, and I’m in love with this whole team.

I’m writing my idea of a fantastic baseball organization, which is of course heavily influenced by the kindness and sense of play driving Joe Madden and my beloved Cubs, with the added influence of my imaginary team having the owner’s lesbian daughter in a power position in operations. She’s all about acquiring hot talent that other teams have passed up, especially if it’s because the player is queer. So we’ve got two gay rookies in book one coming up from the minors who’ve been best friends and rivals since they were kids, the rebellious rock star pitcher and the not-quite-good-enough for the majors utility player who’s brought up with the rock star to keep him in line. Of course, they start crossing all of their personal friendship boundaries immediately, both publicly and privately and the pressure creates all kinds of chaos for them.

Then I’ve got a center fielder who’s got issues with the journalist breaking stories about the various players’ private lives, the rising star sports agent who can’t stop arguing with the team owner’s daughter even while she’s flirting with her, the near-retirement catcher and the young guy eager to replace him, and a first baseman who’s a total player on the social scene who gets in over his head with a movie star and his brilliant wife. Sooooo, yeah. 🙂 I’ve got some awesomeness coming!

I love how prolific you are, not just with full-length novels, but novellas and short stories, too. How do you decide on the right length for a story, and what are some of your favorite of your contributions to anthologies?

Deciding on the right length for a story is mostly a function of the plot, and also the constraints of whatever I’ve agreed to do. Which has occasionally meant that a story I planned on writing for an anthology doesn’t work out, because it’s just too much story for a short form. Or the short story I write has a very HFN ending, as opposed to a HEA, which is fine, of course! HFNs, especially for stories about younger characters, are frequently what I write. But then I’m always tempted to revisit them down the line and give them a more solid HEA.

When I write about people in their early twenties, I almost always feel as if, when the story ends, I’m giving them the happiest ending I can and hoping they make it in the long run. Because it’s not a given that a relationship that starts at that age lasts forever. I mean, it’s not a given for relationships at any age, right? But especially when people are still exploring themselves, their lives, and their worlds. So I really do enjoy revisiting characters like Tom and Reese, who had 100k+ words in Off Campus to get their relationship settled! But they were still finishing up school, and hadn’t met any challenges of the “real world” yet, so adding a 45k novella to their story (in Real World) and getting them settled for good with a solid HEA was important to me.

I just released a book called HeartShip too, which started as an 18k word short story called “The Christmas Ship” in the Wish Come True charity anthology. That story covered forty-eight hours, and was sweet and lovely, but it was just the jumping off point for those two after their long internet friendship! So turning that beginning into a longer novella that gives them a more solid relationship in HeartShip was fun. Mostly I think I don’t like letting go of my characters. LOL. So I’m always thinking about what’s happening to them now and when readers nudge me to write more, I’m terrible at resisting the temptation.

If you were helming a new anthology or series right now, what would the theme be and who would you love to bring on board as contributors?

As it turns out, I am working on a new story for an anthology that just came together a few days ago via the magic of Twitter. A bunch of us who are pretty passionately into politics started joking around about rogue park rangers/White House tweeters, and who you might confess your love to/bang athletically if you seriously thought the world might be ending soon, and all the romance that could happen in The Resistance. Now we’ve got a cover and a tentative production schedule, so you should keep your eyes peeled this summer! We’re having the most fun.

You’re an avid supporter of LGBTQ Romance, which is so wonderful. What are some authors and titles that are always on your rec lists?

Oh, so many! I’ve been rec’ing Kris Ripper nonstop lately, because I love how ze writes these big, beautiful queer communities with the same mashup of relationships and friendships that I enjoy writing in my own. Zir Queers of La Vista and Scientific Method series are my favorites. KJ Charles is always on my rec list for gorgeous m/m historical and paranormal. EE Ottoman’s steampunk Mechanical Universe series is lovely, as is Alexis Hall’s Prosperity series. Both involved amazing worldbuilding and deeply realized characters. I’m also constantly rec’ing Santino Hassell and Annabeth Albert’s contemporaries, Solace Ames’ kink, Josh Lanyon’s mysteries, Keira Andrews’ Amish series, JA Rock’s everything, and Lyn Gala’s SFR. In 2017, two of the best books I’ve read, Peter Darling by Austin Chant and A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson, are also topping my rec list.

As I may have mentioned a thousand times, I’m a huge fan of Callie, Unwrapped, and I’m delighted to see there’s more coming with those characters! Can you give us some idea of what’s to come in the Play it Again series?

I am finishing up final edits/proofreading on book two as we speak! Or, you know, type. Email. LOL. Callie focuses on some serious kink exploration to avoid feeling how instantly reactivated her attachment to Gabe was by the night she spent with him and Kate. But despite her intentions, Gabe ends up…shall we say…intimately involved in those explorations. And this is going to bring up a lot of conflicting emotions for Callie, who is trying to reconnect with her sexuality and her sense of adventure, not turn around and immediately fall for the guy she couldn’t find a happy ending with all those years ago. And then I meant to wrap up Callie #3, which pulls everything together, but it turns out that I’ve got a Kate story almost complete instead. Because Kate walked away from that night with Gabe and Callie with a serious crush on Callie that made Kate think, for the first time, that maybe she’s more into women, romantically, than she thought. So she takes a Gabe-break and tries to figure that out. My current working title for that ms., with massive subtlety, is: Kate Likes Girls.

What’s something you’ve seen in LGBTQIAP+ lit that’s really stuck with you, for better or for worse?

Just the amazingly wide range of stories we have to celebrate these days. I started reading LGBTQIAP+ stories in SFF and mystery, then literary fiction, back in the ’80s and ’90s. Now I also read them in romance and YA, of course. For so many years–for most of my life–almost everything I read that featured queer characters was tragic. Beautiful books, but so unbearably sad, almost always. I remember reading Rita Mae Brown’s Venus Envy in college in 1993 and just being so damn happy that the lesbian lived! And had a new girlfriend, and her family (almost all of them, at least) loved her! That was great. But still, most of my non-romance LGBTQIAP+ reading still featured a lot of unhappy endings. So when I finally found queer romance novels, I was beyond thrilled. Happy endings galore! Thank. God. Because I needed those HEAs, man. Like water, or air, I needed them. Now it gives me constant joy to see the genre expand its boundaries so all kinds of readers can find themselves in stories. We’ve still got plenty of work to do, but I love that we’re seeing a lot more trans and ace/aro and demi and bi characters. Yay for all the stories to come!

What can we hope to see down the line from you that I haven’t covered yet?

I just started reading this fun interactive fiction (The Eagle’s Heir) from Choice of Games after a reader recommended it to me on FB. Then I ran into a lovely representative from CoG at the NECRWA conference and learned a lot about their company (which prioritizes LGBTQ and nonbinary diversity, yay!) and the whole interactive fiction market. So now I’m getting all sorts of ideas about some fun story ideas that might work for that kind of narrative that allows so much reader participation. It’s fascinating! Who knows what could happen…

*****

Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series again.
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